Category Archives: Books and Product Reviews

Britain’s Dragonflies

A field guide to the damselflies and dragonflies of Britain and Ireland

by Dave Smallshire and Andy Swash. Third Edition. Fully revised and updated.

Published by WILDguides (Princeton).

Book review  by Dan Lombardcov BD3

The authors Dave Smallshire and Andy Swash require little introduction to the enthusiastic dragonfly hunter, weathered naturalist or keen beginner alike. Their latest instalment acts as an update to the two previous field guides to the damselflies and dragonflies of Britain and Ireland, produced by wildguides. The book keeps a similar structure to its two predecessors, with an introductory section which covers subjects including ecology, biology, habitat preferences and where to watch dragonflies. Then the book turns into what it was essentially written for, an up to date field guide on the identification of dragonflies and damselflies, with individual accounts for the 56 species likely to be encountered in Britain and Ireland, with additional attention given to vagrants and potential vagrants.

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A detailed identification key precedes the species accounts with detailed identification characteristics for each species. This can be especially useful in the field whilst cross-referencing different species. Systematic species summaries including notes on identification, behaviour, breeding habitat and population and conservation make up the majority of the book. These are excellently written with annotated photographic plates of dragonflies in their natural resting positions, showing the key identification criteria for that given species. Importantly this book pays particular detail to males, females and immatures which can look considerably different in this group even within the same species, it also highlights different ages and colour forms.

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Importantly the identification summary for each species is punchy, with key distinguishing features highlighted in red and regularly cross reference to the photos and other similar species. This is an important character of such guides when a quick reference is required in the field, without reading through reams of text.  Each sex is separated within the main text and is described accordingly.

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A paragraph on behaviour for each species covers important information to aid identification giving tips on how one would expect the dragonfly to behave in the field as well as notes on mating. The section on breeding habitat is relatively brief and acts more to aid identification rather than as a detailed account of species habitat preferences. Population and conservation rounds off the text for each species account and includes some interesting facts about records, recent colonisation events, as well as population outlook for the future.

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On the whole the photographs within the book are excellent, given how difficult this group can be to work with and have been selected to show key identification criteria. Most photographs show adults in their typical resting positions, allowing a clear view of all the important identification features for that given species. Given that we often see dragonflies in flight an excellent addition to this guide summarises identification of dragonflies in flight with some fantastic supplementary photographs.

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As someone who spends a lot of time pond dipping and surveying ponds, a section about the identification of nymphs is also invaluable and is much improved on previous editions, with a detailed key aiding field identification.

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Due to the time of year in which this review was undertaken I field tested the book on nymphs. The book is relatively light, comes with a waterproof cover and is small enough to fit into most bags. It is excellent for field work being both light and durable. The keys are straightforward and easy to follow without being over complicated.

On the whole this is a comprehensive guide which beginners and experts alike can take into the field and confidently use to identify any dragonfly or damselfly that is likely to be encountered in the British Isles. I would thoroughly recommend it to anybody wanting a book on these species or wanting to get into what can initially be a daunting group.

 

Dan Lombard

 

 

The Sound Approach to Birding: Now an eBook on iPad.

 Reviewed by Tim JonesCover

I’ve spoke to a lot of birders recently who have at one point thought about sound recording or it’s on their list of things to do. If that’s you then read half a chapter in the Sound Approach to birding and you will be heading over to eBay to buy some sound recording equipment! The Sound Approach guys have a knack of sounding very clever and knowledgeable but at the same time making it sound easy. In the book complex and potentially confusing calls and songs such as the plastic song of Savi’s and Grasshopper Warblers are discussed in a way that makes it very easy to understand.

And if you need more convincing about getting some sound recording equipment…

‘’It’s frustrating to read long-winded disputes about the identity of a particular rarity on the internet with numerous photographs to look at, when a sound recording would have settled the matter in a moment’’

Take for example a large pipit that was recently in Easington. Views were brief and not conclusive so 5 mins work with some recording equipment, get back make a sonogram and job done it’s a Richard’s, okay so it wasn’t quite that easy but that’s because I didn’t have the Sound Approach to Birding on the iPad!

The book p69X.480x480-75covers Pacific/American Golden Plover, Chiffchaff/Iberian Chiffchaff, Richard’s/Blyth’s/Tawny, Siberian/Common Stonechat, Red-breasted/Taiga Flycatcher, long calls of gulls, woodpecker drums, Short/Long-billed Dowitcher, sexing Pectoral Sandpiper on call, Laughing Moorhen, ‘African’ Chaffinches, Booted/Sykes’s Warbler, the mine field that is Crossbill calls and Northern Bullfinch calls.

Whilst also giving you tips on simple song, ,modulation, call shapes, acoustic slum, variation in calls, cracking the code, ageing birds on call, plastic song, crystallised song, mimicry, mixed singers, playback,

And an all round general introduction to sound recording and information that will help improve your sound recording ability!

Having p127X.480x480-75previously read some of the sound approach books using the ‘traditional’ method using a book and CD player to work through the book, I found it somewhat annoying to have to continually press play and pause whilst reading the book in order to listen to the brilliant recordings that accompanied the books on separate CD’s. Now an iPad edition has been launched which allows the ‘reader’ to interact more easily with the book and the recordings.

The pages are the same as the book version but now instead of having to mess around with separate CD’s all you have to do is press on the sonogram and it opens as a video that shows the sonogram, plays the recording and has a little red bar that moves along, showing the stage that the recording is playing at.

 

 

Sound recording is a whole new aspect of birding that is really starting to open up, most people already have decent sound recording equipment already in their pockets, smartphones! It’s a subject that there is still a lot to learn about and getting the interactive version Sound Approach to Birding on your iPad is the perfect way to start!

For more info and to buy go >>> HERE<<<

 

 

Like a Butterfly – a film by Frank Neveu

review by Keith Clarkson

DVD Salamandre Films

www.salamandrefilms.net

 

like a Butterfly

Shrouded in mystery, it’s exotic appearance and association with some of the most spectacular and inaccessible mountain landscapes in the world has enshrined the Wallcreeper in birding folklore.

Now, this extraordinary DVD provides a window into the otherwise hidden world of this remarkable bird.

Filmed over a three and half year period, in a variety of exotic locations, focussed on the French Alps, the 150 hours of film rushes have been sweetly edited to produce a 20 minute feature film that follows a year in the life of the Wallcreeper.

Evocative winter scenes including striking images of Ibex and a feeding Goshawk set the scene for the returning male Wallcreeper. We are then taken through breeding season, territorial male aggression and song, nest selection by the female, incubation, hatching, feeding, dust bathing, fledging before the altitudinal migration to the wintering grounds in the gorges near Marseilles.

Throughout we are treated to an array of evocative sounds and beautiful images of the Wallcreeper and their neighbours – Lammergeier, Eagle Owl, Ptarmigan and Rock Thrush, in their natural environment.  Magical – it just made me want to go there and find them for myself.

And yet, however, dramatic these images are it was the accompanying extra -  ‘Like a butterfly – the making of the film’  that completely grabbed my imagination.  The short, subtitled, film captures the remarkable dedication, passion for nature, skill and endurance of the French filmmaking team, Frank Neveu, Christophe Sidamon Pesson and their associates. In the word’s of Sidamon-Pesson ‘‘you push the limits to enter the Wallcreeper’s world’  and that’s exactly what they did.

It was exhausting just watching the pre-dawn start, the ascents and abseil into the most flimsy like a Butterflyand precarious hide, bolted onto a vertical cliff face, oh yes, and, the hour-long roped climb back to the clifftop at the end of the12 hour hide session. I’d loved to have seen the risk assessment.

At the end of the ‘making of the film’  Frank Neveu nonchantly comments about the three and a half years –  ‘It has been a little harder than I thought’.  You are left in doubt that it was but having said that it, it was worth every moment – thank you for the insight into the wonderful world of the Wallcreeper.

Rare Birds of North America: REVIEW

Rare Birds of North America

By Steve Howell, Ian Lewington & Will Russell

reviewed by Mark James Pearsonk10101

As you’ll hopefully gather from the following paragraphs, there are many good reasons to commend the authors of Rare Birds of North America, but perhaps the most pertinent is their clarity of vision. It’s a book which has a very ambitious reach, attempting to play several major roles simultaneously, and could easily have come unstuck if any one of those roles fell short of the mark. Yet its bold remit and clear identity reflect not only the expertise and knowledge of its creators, but also their patent enthusiasm and authoritative attention to detail.

 

A sturdy hardback unlikely to find a place in the backpack, Rare Birds….. importantly makes no attempt to masquerade as a true field guide, and thus avoids the obvious pitfalls and limitations that would otherwise have hamstrung such an excellent work. The overall design benefits from a lack of those restrictions, and this is reflected by the clear, stylish and pleasingly accessible layout from start to finish. It’s a joy to handle, with high production values and an inherent feel of quality.

 

The positioning of the book as a companion (as opposed to competitor) to established field guides pays off perfectly in various ways. Take each species’ field identification summaries, for example: suitably concise and straightforward, and yet detailed enough to provide all the relevant points (including notes on similar species), the book works under the presumption that cross-referencing is a given, and is all the better for it. Likewise, there is no rigid template applied to the length of each account or the sections within them, allowing the authors freedom to prioritise and develop themes.

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Pleasingly, each of the 262 species accounts lack the sometimes arguably necessary (but supremely annoying) abbreviations often adopted elsewhere; instead, all the information is presented in an easily read and digested style, hopefully setting the bar high for similar works in the future. US states abbreviated into standard two-letter acronyms are thankfully about as esoteric as it gets (and if that’s still too much, think of it as valuable research for your next game of Trivial Pursuit).

 

Likewise, there’s no need to reduce the illustrations into frustratingly tiny representations, or indeed to cram multiple species onto the same plates; nor, on the other hand, are the plates excessively expansive. Instead, they occupy exactly the right amount of space on  the page, sitting comfortably alongside the accompanying text, with a comprehensive variety of races / ages / variations etc on display for each species.

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Of the plates: Ian Lewington has been understandably revered for his (increasingly) superb artwork over the years, but with Rare Birds… he’s clearly excelled himself once again. Enhanced by the high standard of printing and colour representation on display here, superlatives come easily when flicking through these pages; but perhaps the highest (and rarest) compliment a bird artist can be paid is for their work to considered both beautiful and accurate, which is unarguably the case here.

 

Picking out highlights is virtually impossible – there are too many to mention in any detail here – but it’s hard to look at the buntings, for example, without involuntarily salivating; they look even better when viewed down the hall through binoculars, and I’m half tempted to plant the Pine Bunting page in the bottom of a hawthorn hedge here in Filey, just for the practice.

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Primarily aimed at the North American market, the book nevertheless has numerous insights and much relevance to the British and European birder. There are various cases here where a kind of simple ‘reverse’ referencing is easily applied; notable examples include the Sandpipers and Egrets, although the book is littered with solutions to ID problems well known to birders this side of the pond. Faced with an interesting peep this September on your local wetland, for instance, you could do much worse than turning to the illuminating text and plates (primarily concerning Little Stint) here first, before more traditional choices.

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Another less important but similarly enjoyable side-effect of the book is how it encourages the British-based reader to look at familiar species through an unfamilar filter. In an extension of the ‘if only it were rare’ game (we all play it on those boring February days, don’t we?), looking at the Fieldfare plates against the additionally spicy backdrop of vagrancy revitalises one’s appreciation of such stunning yet taken-for-granted species.

Similarly absorbing, and in a sense the outstanding feature of the book, is the inclusion of the comments sections within each species account. Delivered with a refreshingly enthusiastic and conversational flavour, these invaluable paragraphs allow the authors to hypothesise and discuss the minutiae of each species’ vagrancy patterns (down to individual records in many instances), bringing alive the reality of occurrence and the possibility of finding your own.

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As someone with a worsening weakness for the unique thrill of rarity-hunting (as well as  the good fortune to have birded in the US a fair bit in recent years), I’m doubtless already part of the congregation the book hopes to preach to; drooling over almost unattainable but glittering avian prizes within such pages is practically a hobby in itself, and if you share similarly unhealthy habits, then look no further.

 

But to confine the book’s appeal to those united by the pursuit of vagrants is to do it a disservice. One of its many strengths lies in its breadth of appeal and accessibility (without feeling the need to dumb down). The extended introductory chapters alone are a pleasure to read, wherever you may place yourself on the birding spectrum. The section on ‘Where Do North American Vagrants Come From?’, for example, is a nerd’s dream, and yet is followed seamlessly by a ‘Topography, Molt and Aging’ chapter that much more generalist and populist works would do well to try and emulate.

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This is a book that ambitiously attempts to be many things – part comprehensive identification guide, part commentary, part definitive reference work, part hypotheses reader, amongst others – and impressively succeeds on all counts, without so much as breaking into a sweat. Highly recommended, regardless of where (or how) you enjoy your birding.

 

Mark James Pearson

 

Mark’s writing – http://markjamespearson.wordpress.com/

Mark’s blog – http://northernrustic.blogspot.co.uk/

 

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Waterford Press. Pocket Guide, Birds of Britain (+ many more):

An Introduction to the Familiar Species of England, Scotland and Wales

Review by Anthony Hurd1583552383

On receiving the Pocket Naturalist ‘Birds of Britain: An Introduction to the Familiar Species of England, Scotland and Wales’ my initial thoughts were, this is a smaller and simpler version of an FSC guide with respect to the glossy card used. We use FSC guides here on the shore during Living Seas Centre events and education sessions so I know they do not withstand too many submerging’s into rock pools!! But despite its flimsy nature, this guide is certainly ‘pocket’ sized.

Inside, the guide covers 160+ species and divides them into ‘water birds’, ‘perching birds’, ‘birds of prey’ and ‘doves, woodpeckers etc.’ The illustrations are good enough but the guide is limited to showing mainly adult males in breeding plumage. Whilst the sizes of each species are stated (bill to tail tip) the illustrations are not to scale. So, in summary, this is definitely a beginner’s guide and will introduce people to the basics of our common bird species. But once people start noticing that female birds of certain species are quite different to their male counterparts this guide doesn’t offer any help. Also, disappointingly, the map on the back of ‘Birding Hotspots’ is blank between Cley and Lindisfarne!! Apparently we are devoid of ‘birding Hotspots’ here in Yorkshire! I’ll let you be the judge of that!!

Visit the Waterford Press site for:

Birds of Britain

Birds of Ireland

158355338X

Anthony Hurd, Living Seas Centre Manager for Yorkshire Wildlife Trust

 

The Tight Yorkshireman Guide to DIY birding

Part 1

Discovering Neoprene

G. Tyke

Having forked out a small fortune for a long overdue new Swarovski scope in the summer of 2013, I pondered whether to buy a stay on case, until I saw the £200 price tag. To my mind the scope is rubber armoured and gas-filled and should look after itself in the field, therefore the purpose of a case is only to protect its exterior and appearance to maintain its value.

I noticed that the bird photographers protected their expensive gear with neoprene tubes typically costing forty quid to cover a 400mm lens.

I’d like to make clear at this point, despite already being labelled (or should it be libel’d) on this website as a tight Yorkshireman. This is merely a matter of not spending brass,’ tha’ dunt need to’and it’s unfounded and unfair to suggest that Yorkshiremen are stereotypically mean for adopting this approach.

Anyway, the discovery of neoprene sheet and the cottage industry that has sprung up from all its applications and money saving opportunities, are keeping me busy.  With very little internet research I found over a square meter of 3mm camouflaged patterned neoprene for less than 25 quid (bargain) and black wetsuit repair tape at £1.33 per metre ( same price as half a brown ale). Neoprene strips are simply cut and then joined together by ironing on the tape. The only tools required are a pen, a pair of scissors and the wife’s sewing tape-measure and her iron.

It’s amazing how far the material goes, I’ve loads left and have found myself thinking of what I can make with the offcuts. However, I was a little disappointed that the wife was not as appreciative as I’d hoped when on Christmas morning she opened her present, a pair of handmade camouflage print neoprene slippers. I’m having second thoughts about the hand bag for her birthday!

Below is a series of photographs of my protected equipment and showing just how easy and quick it is to work with.

Above my expensive new scope in its camouflaged finery   patent pending G Tyke

Above my expensive new scope in its camouflaged finery patent pending G Tyke

Take the measurement around the lens then deduct  c15mm to create elasticity and a tight fit

Take the measurement around the lens then deduct c15mm to create elasticity and a tight fit

It's really easy a quick to tape two edges together to make a sleeve (no I’m not making the wife a coat) for a lens.

It’s really easy a quick to tape two edges together to make a sleeve (no I’m not making the wife a coat) for a lens.
Protect your lens for less than a fiver

Protect your lens for less than a fiver

A cautionary note to finish on for this the first installment of the tight Yorkshireman’s guide to DIY birding kit. I recommend getting permission and indeed tuition on using the iron from its owner. Regrettably I wasted some of the wet-suit tape and burnt myself when steam unexpectedly came out. And in the interest of matrimonial harmony clean off any sticky glue residue before you put the iron back in cupboard.

Look out for my next money-saving idea on how to prevent piles when seawatching

Generosity Tyke

The Bird Atlas 2007-2011

Review from YOU!

Arguably the most authentic reviews come from ‘public reviews’. I (MG) bought my own copy of the new atlas. Rather than my waffle, I am opening this up for consumer/ birder based reviews of one of the most talked about books at the end of 2013.

Please tell us what you think- is this one to get, read, borrow or ignore?

Just use ‘leave a reply/comments box’ at end of the post.

And if you haven’t seen it, here’a peak including chapters on Spotted Redshank, Gannet, Storm Petrel and Red-necked Phalarope. (thanks to Jeff Baker and Dawn Balmer).

Atlas-Front_Cover_web

 

just click on the links below and scroll though to see samples chapters

PDF_logo Chapter on data analysis and map production

 

PDF_logo Chapter on Gannet

 

PDF_logo Chapter on Spotted Redshank

 

PDF_logo Chapter on Storm Petrel

 

PDF_logo Chapter on Red-necked Phalarope